Travel

               I’ve been to Disney, know the urgency involved in getting a double stroller through thickets of people, whose path mirrors that of a distracted goat herd, to the next ride before a line you know will, can build…
Your best effort markets a practiced enthusiasm to a stroller that you rightly suspect, sees right through it :   ‘Daddy seems so rushed, uptight and not really enjoying this wonderful place..’

I have also boarded a jetliner after three final calls.  Our shouldered carry on bags bumping the heads of impatient seated flyers as we struggle down the aisle to find space in bins, we know to be full…

The feeling is both remote in frequency and location yet distinctively similar and humbly reminds me, how I might be a poor traveler.  

Tonight, I have boarded the train early and having found my usual seat vicinity, witness in the third person, the above just described.  

A young couple, he looks 27 and she no more then 16 finds the empty front seats of the car … the notated ones with the extra leg room.  
Others file in behind them and he is rushed, a bit agitated but resolved in his choice of seats.  

At first, I thought them to be brother and sister given the young age but the way she starts directing orders and protesting that these seats are labeled and not suitable, quickly suggests that they just might be a married couple. 

He says: ‘who cares, so what?‘   She wears glasses, a ponytail and holds a notebook:
no, ok whatever…just get the bags up there…no, over there and be gentle with my lobster bag . . .’

I smirk, louder than intended and she immediately looks my way holding the stare, in an awkward suspended way.    Now, I have not been in trouble in a library in a very long time, but that feeling quickly came back too. 

He huffs the bags up, throws an exasperated shiver with his hands and drops heavily into his seat. . .momentarily frustrates with the recline button and finally lets out an audible sigh. 

Hun, sugar honey, really? … you know that I want to sit by the window and besides, you need to be on the aisle in case I need my lobster bag.’

   
To which I laugh aloud, turning to stare out my window and see not in return, the glare.

 

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Joneses

A crescent moon briefly illuminates the slow moving clouds of an exhausted Nor’Easter and in the present shadows, steam rises from cracks unseen beneath the tracks.     

It is quiet, long past rush hour, few populate this damp platform and those who do, shuffle and half shiver in wait.   Through the mist, the last train of the evening finally emerges, backing slowly … a surreal image conjured from perhaps any city in the world: Milan, Düsseldorf, Istanbul, Paris.   

I stand now at shoulder with an elderly gentleman whose enthusiastic approach disguised his pronounced limp. He gazes past me at the approaching machinery with patient anticipation and a somewhat mysterious admiration.   

A woman and perhaps her niece nudge past us and the cordoned rope with their rolling suitcases.   The gentleman’s eyes divert now and slowly follow . . .he shakes his head softly and whispers: ‘let them do their thing, let them brakes cool … ain’t more than a dozen on this platform and she can accommodate close to two hundred – ain’t no rush…’

A tired looking engineer saddles his backpack and approaches . . . only to have his gait halted as he looks out our way:
 ‘Joneses, that you?!?’

A bear hug fitting for an avalanche survivor, my companion on the platform is now suddenly twenty something years younger, asking questions about so and so: (‘Mike, Todd, Butch … whose running the yard now, etc…’)

To his ears:  ‘long gone…I am twenty-five years..last of the crew…how’s that leg holding up? I had just started when it happened … if you don’t mind my asking?’

‘Leg’s fine, mind you none.  Why I was’n a damn fool back then days.  We’d run in    front of them switches, I think #5 or 7 was the trickiest … ‘member training that young conductor, umm forget her name now, but we were out there by them switches after a shift – you know how we did back then – crossing the yard to the shack for a drink, all did it…..train come along out’a nowhere…’ 

(I have not moved and they seem to welcome that I am staring in to listen) 

‘ I don’t see nothing, switch five I think it was, mess my leg up real good…end of the line that was for me and these here rails…’

his voice slipping off just a notch…

‘…she slipped on past and was just fine, all that mattered then.  I sure miss it though….’

I have gently moved away now and hear not the parting words, I know to be genuine, from a brotherhood I’ll never experience and find my seat by a window.   

 

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The Pamphlet

        The afternoon sun was surprisingly bright and its warmth upon those boarding the 5:35pm was just the kickstart most needed after two long days of fifty-one degrees and a sideways rain.   The joke of the these past forty-eight hours all around town was: ‘We went to sleep in July and woke up in April.’ That is how quickly the weather had turned and the wind had swept our spirits out with it.   Now however, it was July, almost August again and folks had that extra jump to their step and smiled in an all inclusive way.

When the doors shut, I set my phone, slipped my shoes off and shut my eyes. The sounds around me of laughter, young and old, along with the adjoining quiet conversation just added to the peaceful rhythm of the train, I knew foreshadowed a nice nap.

I did sleep but I imagine it was no more than five to ten minutes. I was abruptly awakened to shouting. At first I thought I didn’t hear it correctly but quickly it resumed.  It was not a shouting match but instead one older man screaming obscenities at a young man seated three rows ahead of me to the right.

‘You f$*~^!ng mother f$*~^r . . . where did you grow up?!? I grew up in f$*~^!ng Manhattan, you a$$h0le !!’

I am awake now.   The entire car is silent and those around me, including I, are in visible shock.   The elder guy is standing, his seat or seats is the front four – normally designated only for families.   He has deposited his luggage and a canvass wrapped painting there.   He is slender, has long white hair and wears a pasty complexion currently wildly distorted by his crimson face.   The young lad seated behind him could easily have played rugby but wears a nice shirt and gold cufflinks while sitting calmly and typing into his lap top, resting on the tray connected to the irate man’s seat.

I try to fathom in a blur what could have facilitated such an abusive tirade. I suspect that young made a smirk at artsy pants old with all his mess tangled amidst four seats . . .maybe he made a NYC quip, which from Boston was likely or maybe he dropped his tray fast and loud while kneeing the elders seat . . .Whatever it was, the young mans calm demeanor was rapidly escalating this scene.

‘Are we going to have a F$*~^!ng problem here, you little punk?!?’ ‘Ugh, are we you little F$*~^er?!? . . .’

The young man says something while quickly looking up from his computer but I cannot see his face nor hear what was said. The standing in fury is now purple and screaming back.

This is going to end badly,   I slip my shoes back on.

The man then sits in the aisle seat next to the younger and shouts just precious inches from his face.   I am by now thinking the old slender Andy Worhal look alike is both crazy and blind because this kid could end his trip quite quickly with a well placed left elbow into the man’s teeth.   This is beyond way out of hand now and I am truly astonished at the young man’s self control, calmly typing away. The artist now gets up and goes to the front of the car, turns around with clenched fists and boldly pronounces:

‘Ok – a$$h0le, two things are going to happen here . . one, I am going to go to jail and . .two, you will be going to the hospital – you mother little F$*~^er!!!’

I hear a young girl start to sob behind me and her mother quickly consoles.

“That’s enough!” an authoritative voice that sounds to be behind me, to my left and to the right all at the same time.   I see the young man’s face for the first time now as he has turned to see who is interjecting in these quickly dissolving seconds.   He is staring towards my direction to where a man has appeared from nowhere and stood at the empty seat to my right. “Enough of this language, we have young children here.”

The artist is taken back by this new affront and throws his white flock of hair back over his beet red forehead and glowers back, frothing at the mouth. “Who the hell are you? . . . mind your own business!!”

The new voice however, does not waver in his response and does not escalate the tension in his reply. He stands half in the aisle almost by design so that the artist cannot see his left hand. “I am here simply to help you get home. How far down the line do you plan on going this evening? “

The wild eyed man with white hair is perplexed and frozen trying to comprehend this question. “What in God’s name does that mean: down the line ?? I am going to Manhattan, the Big Apple – where my gallery is . . why the Hell do you care?!? This is between me and this arrogant Mother F$*~ . . .”

”No, . . .this is now between you and ALL of us. You will sit in your seat and neither swear nor rant any further, or you WILL be getting off this train at the next stop.’ His voice is so matter of fact that all seated now stir in anticipation of the next happenings.

The artist takes a step forward towards the man, pauses and steps back laughing: “Absurd, I am not getting off anywhere but New York City, you have no authority, none at all !”

To this the man moves smoothly and entirely out into the aisle squaring off at three feet. In his right hand rises a cell phone and in his left, drawn from the seat, a pamphlet.

“Actually,” his voice knowingly soft, trusting and instructive “not only do I have the authority but each of the fifty or so folks in this car, also have the authority. You see, in each of the seventy seats in this rail car, there is a pamphlet. On the top of each pamphlet it reads: WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. . . LITERALLY. Below that is the familiar phrase: IF YOU SEE SOMETHING . . .and below that, is a number (800-331-0008). I or anyone here can dial that number and you will have an inconvenienced party waiting for you at the very next station stop.”   He then holds the pamphlet up and turns back to the seated.   Heads have ducked forward and show again, one by one also holding up a pamphlet.   The elder mans eyes dart from one to the next, his lips curl but he says nothing. “So you see” says the stranger from nowhere who has just turned the tables calmly and most assuredly, “I, we, are trying to help you get home . . .the beauty of strength is that it is often revealed in numbers and unity is a precious commodity.”

The white haired man has turned now back to his seat in a succumbed posture, repositions his stuff, steals a last glance down the aisle at the raised pamphlets and quietly sits down, his back to all.

Next to me the gentleman from nowhere sits and contently watches.   Ten minutes later, the train pulls into Providence and most young professionals, including the young harassed one, debark for the evening – he choosing the rear exit while nodding towards those seated, as he does so.

Several stops further on, my stop, I am surprised as our new friend is getting up to get off also. On our way up the aisle, he leans over to the white haired shell of a man and whispers into his ear.   The sullen, seated man, while never looking up, nods in agreement.
On the platform, I turn to the stranger and thank him and ask: “ if I may, what did you just say to him?”  He turns back, the setting sun illuminating his eyes. . . he is taller and more formidable out here in the light. He smiles and says: “I told him to remember what he’d heard, never forget numbers and that I’d see him again from time to time. . .”

With that, the stranger walked off towards the station tunnel and returned from where he had appeared, . . . seemingly out of nowhere.

 

 

 

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 The Grin

                  The heat was oppressive and unyielding and it was five hours past noon.   On the streets, folks ducked into hotel lobbies to suck cool manufactured air deep into their exhausted lungs.   The station however had no such air, just lazy fans fatigued by rising heat, high above in the rafters.   A number of trains had been cancelled due to electrical issues and the elderly occupied most benches, wheezing in wait – a collective, labored exhale.   On the platform few stood but those who could bear the humidity, saw the quickly building thunderheads climbing far above skyscrapers to the West and hoped that relief may soon blow through this suffocating station.   It was now time to board the train which was heading straight into the storm.
 
       As expected, it took longer to get everyone seated but the mood in the car was noticeably better given the intermittent air.   The wind came first and the rain followed just as the doors closed and I suspect some felt cheated, not having been caught out in it.   Across the aisle from me arrive two, he full of energy and wide eyed . . . taking it all in.   She is spent, tired and worn.   She wipes the perspiration from her brow into her dark matted hair and sits while managing a soft smile towards her son, staring intently out the rain lashed window.   I suspect he is ten, maybe twelve and marvel at his fascinated enthusiasm.   She entrust him with their tickets and baggage claim and asks that she may get a little rest. He nods in a manner politely routine, suggesting that this trust has been earned over time.
 
       The conductor is but a shadow as he comes by and is quietly impressed at the young boy’s behaved efficiency.   He gives him some extra stubs, should the boy wish to play with or draw on.   The conductor moves on, following the rattle of the tracks beneath us, down the aisle.   It is then, in the half light of the car that lightning flashes with a fury outside and I see the boy standing in his seat, staring my way with a most mischievous grin and a devious shimmer in his eyes.  

Before the clap of thunder, he has lifted himself over his sleeping mother and is crawling forward amidst the luggage overhead.   ‘What in the world?’ . . .I want to shout out, reprimand, protect and chase the little monkey down . . .but I am pinned in by an old timer finally sleeping soundly and all around me, it is quiet.   Besides, where can he go?   The bathroom, no, that is the other way – towards the conductor . . . my worry then grows as he drops to the aisle up ahead and opens the adjoining doors to the car.   ‘The cafe car . . .why, that little devil!’.    I recall now, seeing his small hands return the baggage claim . . to his mother’s purse. . .’I’ll be damned’.
 
       Five minutes, ten . . .the next stop is approaching and it is mine . . . my concern grows.   The conductor walks quickly by, towards the cafe . . . ‘game over kid’ – I am thinking.   To my astonishment however, just as the door closes and behind the conductor, the boy darts back into our rail car with a big box of snacks in his left hand.   He calmly walks the aisle like some fancy waiter and maneuvers into his seat, causing not a stir from his mother.  

The great locomotive has by now punched through the rain and is racing towards a brilliant setting sun.   As far as the eye can see, the soaked land is lush and a bright green.
 
       The boy is licking his fingers and hiding wrappers when I look back next, as the train slows into my station.   I deftly step over the sleeping gentleman and look down towards the mother and her son.   She has awakened and looks up, half expecting me to say something – and I am tempted.   Something like: ’best leash this lad towards NYC ma’am’ . . . but the boy has leaned back and smiled up at me . . . he winks with a wide grin while placing his right forefinger over his chocolate covered teeth and I just smile back, as his secret is now mine too.   I nod to them both as the doors open and bid them ‘a pleasant journey’.
 

 

 

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The Gab

 

The morning journey across this beautiful land most often unfolds in a quiet routine that is both glorious in its landscape and equally efficient in its order. An established accreditation lost not among the awake. The great accelerating silver locomotive slides through dawn’s dew sodden fields, glistened to the blade by a brilliant rising autumn sun, delivered from a distant Eastern horizon. Behind the train’s thunderous inertia, is left a fantastic multitude of foiling twirling mists. At once pushed aside, they are lifted upward and folded quietly back down to the backdrop of a purple Western sky. In the vacuum of the passing noise, it is once again, all silent.

As the Sixty-six carves through the morning countryside populated by small coastal towns consisting mostly of farmers and fishermen, it approaches its third stop, a major city. By this stop, it is generally crowded, although still muted in its acoustics given the early hour.

Down the aisle come two women, middle aged, no luggage (day trippers) and energetic, in a loud way.

‘keep walking dear, we’ll find seats . . .’

Instructed, as they pass and again behind me, replied:

‘oh, no ! . . .this next car is the quiet car – we can’t go in there, no.’

‘no, that doesn’t work – I have too much to tell you and the trip is only a hour and a half.’

‘. . .right, and you my dear, certainly have your mother’s great gift of the gab.’

‘Ha – let’s just stand back here., shall we . . . I have so much to share . . . as I started to say in the car when I picked you up, you are not going to believe . . . ‘

Most folks have now been awakened by this banter that has all but muted the conductor’s frequent announcements and stare back in an inconvenienced way towards the rear of the railcar at these two loquacious women speaking over each other, in full dialogue.

It is then, at that very moment, having found myself standing and choosing the precise moment to speak, that I hear my voice in its most humble and polite delivery, instinctively disguising all semblance of the slightly facetious tone:

“Excuse me ma’m, miss. . .ma’am, if I may, nothing on this wonderful bright morning could possibly give me greater pleasure and a deep satisfaction than to offer up to you both, my seat and the vacant one beside it. Here, please sit and I do apologize for the interruption.”

The woman in the red blouse and wearing the most makeup has risen her hand over her heart, while revealing two her gold fillings and mildly blushes in genuine accepting shock:

‘Why, aren’t you just a lovely peach. Are you sure, really?’

As gravity draws and pulls them into the two seats in the rear of the railcar.

As I walk up the aisle to the next car, the glares of the seated are not lost upon me, clearly shouting:

‘thanks a lot buddy, you’re just full of it and now we’re stuck with it!’

As the doors slide open, the loud gab is still discernible, yet faded and soon to be forgotten to the day ahead.

 

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The Cog

The hours spent at the office layered each upon the last like a grey snowfall that simply would not end.  Each daily journey to and from his current outpost was a rushed coordination of logistics that leaned heavily on chance, sprinkled with a dose of luck. The latter of which he believed a distant fable.   The inconsistency of the railroads reliability often delivered him late to frustrated management, thus forever suppressing his already paltry wage.  This coupled with struggles to put food on his family’s table and pay bills built over time that no honest man could ever re-pay, had him strung tight behind his fatigued demeanor.   

 

He drifted off to the familiar rhythm of the train lurching forward and accelerating beneath him, in a fitful doze slowly consumed by whole silence.  The motion of the great locomotive was a hypnotic elixir that relaxed his weary and worn soul.  He felt the acceleration of its decent, the quiet transverse over plains, felt suspended and weightless crossing long narrow bridges high above deep dark canyons forged by the rivers of time.  He heard the deceleration, felt the slow ascent push his head softly to the chair, he felt the cog.  

 

‘Karten aus, lass mich deine Papiere sehen!’
‘tickets out, let me see your papers!’

 

The train slowly climbs the steep mountainside attached to the cog, much like a rising roller coaster.   His seat appears reclined as he looks about.  Outside, the last shafts of sunlight illuminate snow covered peaks far above a tree line, that has quietly fallen away.

 

‘Papiere sehen!’
demands the young conductor staring down at him.

‘jetzt!’
‘now!’

 

He fumbles through his satchel for his ticket, his papers and passport. The figure of the conductor before him grows larger and more intimidating with the increasing incline.  He has broad shoulders, a square jaw and piercing blue-grey eyes.  His eyes are arrogant and hold a disdain that have already concluded and confirmed guilt.

 

The man can sense the stares of others turning around and although it is quite cool in the rail car, he is perspiring.   With a noticeable tremble, he hands his papers up to the conductor dressed in all black.   

 

The train moves higher to the sound of the cog but it cannot keep pace with the vanishing light.

 

‘..ihre papiere sind nicht in ordnung..’  
‘..your papers are not in order..’       

‘Nein, du wirst bei der nachsten haltestelle ablegen un an die station melden!’
‘No, you will de-board at the next stop and report to station!’

 

There are many eyes upon him now and the shirt beneath his coat is damp with sweat.   He tries to comprehend in a language he is not fluent, just what he is hearing.  His stomach has knotted and his head shakes in an attempt to defend and explain.  His arms, he cannot move his arms and his entire body seems strapped to the seat by a powerful weight of gravity.   He strains to protest, but no sound travels further than his throat and none reach his lips.   

 

To his left out the window, the sunlight has somehow escaped over the mountains leaving only the chasing darkness. 

Paralyzed now in abject fear, his head drops back to the right and those across the aisle grin at him in wickedness and laugh aloud in a toothless curdled siren.  

The train has leveled, left the cog and silently pulls into a deserted dark station. . .

“hey fella, wake up, this is your stop: Kingston – you almost missed it.”

The man bounds from his seat, ashen, squeezes the arm of his everyday conductor and says: ‘thank you’ three times, in quick succession.  

 On the platform, he pauses to breathe the warm Spring air deep into his lungs, looks to the stars and thanks his Blessing to be home.

 

 

 

 

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Vapers

The previous day had been so hot that I surmised that when the trains were that afternoon, two hours late . . . all the engineer crews had quite likely and simply just climbed out of their steaming hot drivers seats, said: ‘the heck with this’ . . .and went towards cooler shores.

 

Later only, did I confirm such might have indeed been the case:
‘No crews to move the trains from the yard . . .never seen anything like that in all my forty years. . .’’ remarked a tired and frustrated conductor at 19:22 EDT.

 

This afternoon however, the thirty six hour cycle of stagnant air that had risen the humidity to such a suffocating level, sweltering a city that appeared suspended in smog, was beginning to waver. The upper hand of pressure permeating unstable thermal activity, was beginning to exert its rightful control.

 

While there was no wind as yet, enormous cumulonimbus shapes formed unreachable mountains in the skies to the South and West, insidiously sucking warm liquid vapors off the oppressed canals, estuaries and waters surrounding this once vibrant metropolis.

 

Roughly a half hour from our boarding time, these magnificent clouds that seemed to reach dizzying azure zeniths, had far dwarfed the tallest buildings and had by a compass, surrounded us all.

Then, having apparently fulfilled their vast propensity to harvest and store such humidity, a certain capacity was satiated. The resultant bold, broad uplifts at once hesitated, dissipated and left powerful cool downdrafts to descend rapidly beneath.
On the platform, such was most welcome. The wind swirled with speed and swiftly removed hats and blew open the quite loose fabric worn by most. It brought smiles, embarrassed ‘whoops’ and laughter to those caught off guard . . . and there was a long pleasant moment . . . before the first raindrop.

 

When it came it was sudden, just after a brilliant five-way fractal flash of lightening illuminating the entire Western sky. The thunder was deafening and defeated our senses, for we were soaked before we knew it was raining.

The wind came now from the South, warmer, but the rain pelted our faces cold from the North and West. Confusion rose in the rapidly reduced visibility of the platform. In the new darkness faces were captured in worried frame: a repeating staccato of lightening, wind, thunder and unrelenting rain.

 

The all familiar announcements, to our drenched ears of: ‘Boarding, the 6:48 to Wickford Junction, track five..’ and ‘Be vigilant..if you See . .’ was slow, slurred and mechanically distorted. . .as if lightening had just struck and mangled the wires . .

 

By me now, our conductor has moved first and directly into the driving wind and rain. His weighted bag full of wet papers, ticket stubs and solid keys are kept to his aft, as he leans into the wind:

“Get these people on the train, let’s go now.”

Most hesitate, but I quickly follow and encourage others my way. A wet pilgrimage then crosses the fifty or so feet to the cover of the platform where our steel albatross sits in wait, to carve us home.

Out of the wind and rain, we sit in our seats in a shivering exhale, as the train slowly slides in solitude out of her berth and towards the tunnel connecting this station to a higher ground beyond.

 

It is very slow going at first and only when we see dim green foliage on the other side, does our conductor reach for the PA microphone and speak in an assured calm tone.

He informs that the rapidly building water at the station was quite likely to have filled the tunnel past the eight inches allowed and delayed us . . . .most indefinitely.

 

There is warmth in the cabin now and more than a few claps and cheers. Folks also hear that there is a cafe car just three cars back and the spry, spring for such. Others await the conductor to check our tickets and give him a heartfelt thanks.

 

Only later, home and eating a hot meal, do I read that the Sox game was long rained out and much of the city was this cool evening, flooded.

 

 

 

Sent from 🚂 📞 . . .

 

 

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